Gone are vomit, trash, urine, needles, puddles and foul odors; the alley to the east of Cahuenga Blvd., south of Hollywood Blvd. is now a sparkling, paved and planted oasis of civility, thanks to an $800,000 grant and the initiative and idea of UCLA student Sarah MacPherson’s master thesis on alley transformation.
City Councilman Eric Garcetti worked with the now defunct and defunded LA Community Redevelopment Agency to procure an arrangement that allowed property owners, restaurants, and other businesses to work with the LADOT in repaving and landscaping a back alley which is now lined with cafes, wall art, lanterns and lights.
There are 26 other alleys in Hollywood, and the Hollywood Business Improvement District hopes this project becomes a template to redo other forgotten spaces to help civilize LA.
Last night’s dusk tour was arranged by Design East of Labrea, and it began and ended at St. Felix’s Happy Hour.There are more photos on Facebook’s Here in Van Nuys page.
Another small step towards a more walkable, sociable, urbane city.
I have a favorite person whom I have known for 15 years, since he came to Los Angeles, fresh-faced and smiling, out of Arkansas and onto Zelzah Avenue in Encino where he tried his hand at acting and improving at the Groundlings.
Sadly, he left here and went to graduate school at NYU, got married, got children and got divorced.
His name and accomplishments have danced across my computer screen as his Facebook friends have grown to over 1200 people and at various times he has credits as a writer, screenwriter, producer and columnist.
And last night I saw him for about 1.5 hours, for the first time in seven years, and we met in a crowded bar on Santa Monica Boulevard where you can only valet park, and he was with a friend, a friend with an iphone who was texting continually and the three of us went to another bar on Fairfax where more people joined us and I was the only one who was born north of the Mason-Dixon line and the conversation revolved around projects in development and people who were waiting to hear some confirmation of some impending entertainment job that was supposed to happen but had not. Y’all know the story…..it’s called Hollywood.
Narcissist that I am, I stared into mirrors of the bar, and compared and contrasted myself to last night’s companions.
I know I haven’t reached any level of professional accomplishment in my own life, and that screenplay I should have sold has never sold, and that book I should have completed has not been written, and those titles and jobs I might have climbed into and those incomes I might have earned have not been earned, but somehow, against those obstacles of my own making, I have become happier in the past few years.
And I think I know why.
I don’t work in entertainment. I really don’t. I write a blog. I take photos.
And it is refreshing. I see myself and I see Los Angeles as entities with possibility and hope whose fulfillment does not depend on someone working at MGM, Sony, Sundance, AMC or E!
People who live in Los Angeles but do not work in entertainment, these people are generally better off financially, ethically and psychologically.
On Mullholland, driving west, they can see the hills and the orange sun setting without the big lips and huge face of Angelina Jolie darkening the dusk. The earth is older than Hollywood and will be here years after man has vanished.
But for today, if only Hollywood and its poisons could be taken out of the bloodstream of Los Angeles, the city could be experienced for what it is, honestly, fervently, innocently.
To just live here without an entertainment agenda or ulterior motives is liberating.
I drove yesterday, in the bright sun, with the dry winds blowing, and had lunch with friends, and I stopped into my favorite clothing store, General Quarters, and chatted with Blair Lucio.
Blair envisioned, imagined, created, and opened a perfect little traditional men’s store. He doesn’t hop and jump and whore himself for publicity. He was not keen on me asking him if I could borrow some of his clothes for shoot. He doesn’t want to loan anything out because he has a few pieces and he intends to sell them.
He may succeed and he may not. I certainly hope he does. But his methods have garnered my admiration because they are true. Unlike the Hollywood wanderers…
And tomorrow and the day after I will talk and text with Hollywood people, the people who think they will become the next big thing and make love to Andy Cohen or get backslapped on-stage by Simon Cowell, or work in a bright writer’s room on a dark show about zombies, vampires or detectives. Some will pick up the microphone and lay down tracks, and others will Twitter incessantly, hoping that fate will bend to ego and self-promotion. They will be enacting and working on the self-destructive and futile passion of pursuing a career in Holllywood.
Steven Curtis is a Hollywood based photographer and Vietnam War veteran. I met him a few years ago and spent an afternoon touring his house, inspecting his vintage camera collection, and learning about his experience as a soldier and shooter (pun intended) in that long ago, but never forgotten conflict.
His photographs can be found here.
I rode the train down to Hollywood and Highland the other day, my way to enter the city that is part protest and part convenience.
Los Angeles is fast becoming a city. It is true that millions live here on mountain and plain extending from Palm Springs to the Pacific, but to disembark from a Hollywood subway and walk up into a dense conglomeration of bars, restaurants, stores, apartments, and theaters; that has eluded the City of Angels which prefers to offer up asphalt and sunshine and days spent inside looking at the TV in air-conditioned isolation. But things are changing.
Near Hollywood and Whitley, there was police action. A Mexican bicyclist had accidentally clipped off the side mirror of a Bentley and the owners, two black men, beat and bloodied his face. The bruised Latino sat on the sidewalk, while several cops filed reports and dozens of witnesses watched.
Across the street, another young man on a bike, Derrick, told me that he just came here from San Antonio, TX and was staying at the Roosevelt but had been robbed and had nowhere to stay so he just rode around the city all day. He had come to LA to get away from bad people in Texas and now he was living the dream here.
Hollywood Boulevard, incidentally, has some of the ugliest clothes in LA seen north of Melrose. Everything tacky from five years ago: graphic t-shirts, baggy jeans, garish jackets, they all are presented with vast indifference by smoking shopkeepers. The sidewalks outside of the store smell like urine. The north side is baked in sun and smog, and the south side in perpetual darkness and shade.
I was down here on one of my “jobs”, photographing a model who, in his demeanor and looks, emits privilege, elegance, health and happiness. And on his Twitter stream, asks for dog-sitting jobs, begs for car rides to Silver Lake, and tweets of eviction, depression, exhaustion, sinus infections, flu and seeing Jennifer Anniston on the street.
You want to warn young hopefuls not to be, to advise them to get out of here before they get old and fat and move to Woodland Hills to work for Anthem, but it is futile when you have a mouth full of white teeth on an unlined face and your body fat is only 3 percent.
On the train back to North Hollywood, there was a bicyclist, holding his new thin-tired machine evocative of Italy and leanness. He told me how he rides from Van Nuys to Hollywood and got hit by a car last year. He was sanguine and not-at-all bitter about his injury, and seemed to be a genuine chipper urbanite of the new, denser Los Angeles who looks beyond his car, engaging the urban life with feet and rapid heart beat.
Later that night, we went to my favorite cheap sushi restaurant in Valley Village. As I sat eating, a young man walked by the window. He had greasy long blond hair and sad eyes. He looked, not with lust but in need, directly at me.
After we left the restaurant and got into the car the haunted young man walked up to my window and asked me if I had any change to spare.
And I didn’t have the kindness, I admit, to give him anything.
So I was back in the Los Angeles, not in Hollywood, not in the train, but in the land where nobody has money but people with money.
There is a world of old houses on winding streets that wends its way behind Franklin up in Hollywood. I was there yesterday to assist a photographer in styling a shoot with a male model.
I am a photographer myself, but have worked in the fashion industry and love clothing. So my photographer friend and I went shopping on Saturday, down at the Beverly Center, and pulled together handsome wool sweaters, tight plaid pants, exquisitely tailored dress shirts, artful caps, and patterned scarves.
The location was his home: a 1925 Spanish style house with high ceilings, wood beams, and a warren of rooms, balconies, green tiled bathroom; art deco, sunlit and ornate, overlooking the south-facing brightness of Hollywood.
The photographer possessed a fine and expensive array of lights, various strobes, reflectors, electrical voltage devices, screens, flashes, lenses. Expensive illumination I could only dream of.
Around 10am, a young, tall, lean, polite blond man with close-cropped hair showed up. He reminded me of Brad Pitt. He had a slight twang. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Springfield, MO, Sir.” And it turned out he was from Pitt’s same town. “My mom and Brad went to high school together,” he said.
The model talked, as many do, about his busy life.
Suddenly, he was actor, not just a model, and getting parts in various shows. No college for him. He just got in his car and drove to LA and stuff started happenin’. He had a girl, also a model, and she was makin’ lots of money. Good stuff.
We two men, photographer and stylist: bruised, jaded, wiser, middle-aged; heard it from him and hoped it was true. The trajectory of success, the dream of making it, the hope of security, the lure of fame, the imagined life ahead: anything can happen at 23.
I had laid out the various looks and set about getting him into the clothes.
There is only one moment in our lives when we are young, and we do our best to rush through it, blithely unaware and carelessly ignorant of its temporal nature.
So with my admiration and envy, the tall, thin, agile man with the smooth face, metal dog tag, shaved chest and icy blue eyes, slipped into a spread-collared Tattersall shirt, wool tie, blue cardigan, driving cap, brown cords. And then he stepped in front of the camera, while 100 flashes of strobe and lens captured his every microsecond of movement.
He feigned facial expressions of aggression, longing, innocence, passion, anger. He danced around a white-walled backdrop: arms flaying, knees bending, chest puffing.
What followed were his transformations into Klub Kid, English School Boy, American Prep Student, and something that looked like gay Berlin with black combat boots and a high-waisted, tummy tucking, black spandex underwear get-up.
A few hours later, I left the house.
It was a Sunday: cool, clear, crisp, with rain-washed air.
High, white, puffy cumulus clouds floated over red-tiled roofs and magenta tinted Bougainvillea.
I had been working in a Bruce Weber/Paul Jasmin photographic fantasy inside the house. And now I was living one outside. (contd.)
Years ago, Paul Jasmin shot some gorgeous photos inside the home of designer Kevin Haley. As I remember it, the house was somewhere in this same neighborhood. A book, Lost Angels, showed a young man on a white rug in the Haley home. There were other photographs in a room of Chinese painted wallpaper, and romanticized young men and women in front of bamboo gardens.
And I had wanted, so badly, to get inside that house, the same way I had imagined that walking up to 1164 Morning Glory Circle might lead me into the Darrin Stephen’s home and into Samantha’s kitchen.
But those are fantasies, illusions– idiotic tricks—which our media and movie saturated minds play on visitors and residents of Los Angeles.
I think I had once sent a card, the kind with a postage stamp, delivered by a postman to a mailbox, addressed to the famed designer on Pinehurst Road. I wrote him that I admired his work. I had hoped to be invited inside. But he never responded.
“Open House, Sunday 1-4” read the sign at the bottom of Pinehurst Road.
Could this be the Haley House? I walked up the road.
And like some wonderful moment from “Miracle on 34th Street”, the one where Chris Kringle left his cane inside a Cape Cod house destined to be the future home of a young Natalie Wood, the cane was left at my door and the Haley House was for sale ($999,000), and the front gate was open.
I walked up the stairs. On my left, the same shaded garden with the bamboo.
There were two levels to the house, and on the lower level, rentable apartments with old-fashioned casement windows, 1940 stoves, painted in bright colors. I walked in and said, “Hello” but nobody answered.
And then I realized that there was a second floor, and up I walked, and entered into the house where a realtor sat, glumly, looking at his laptop and muttering a tired hello to someone who didn’t matter to him.
But I didn’t care. Because there, in front of me, was the dining room with turquoise painted Chinese wallpaper and the blue woodwork. Just like the photograph! The white, fluffy area rug sat in the middle of the living room, just as it had in Paul Jasmin’s picture, absent the shirtless young man.
On the second floor: exotically painted and intriguingly wallpapered bedrooms, in deep, dark, saturated colors set off with various Oriental lamps, black and white photographs and casually strewn pillows on tufted sofas.
I had, maddeningly, left my own camera in the trunk of my car, not knowing that I would soon walk inside a photograph and tour a fantasy that existed for me only inside a book.
It was only one Sunday in Los Angeles, somewhere in Hollywood, up in the hills, but I saw enough beauty yesterday to keep me awake, long into the night.
In my car yesterday, looking for a shortcut to avoid traffic on Melrose near Normandie, I turned up Kenmore and drove north.
On the 900 Block, I found a strange and eerie neighborhood of old houses.
There were no cars parked on the street, and hardly any automobile traffic.
Jail bars covered the doors and windows of every home. The street was baked in blistering sun, and without any shade trees.
No people were outside, and at the end of the block, at Santa Monica Boulevard, vagrants sat along the curb outside of a twin-steepled church.
I wanted to know what this neighborhood was, and what it had been, a long time ago.
Was there a time when children played in the front yards, rode bikes on the street, and adults sat on the porch drinking iced tea?
Why did every window sit behind steel bars? And was there a time when people lived in homes without protective glass gates?
And who lives here now? Are they mostly Korean or Armenian?
And why does this sunny place seem so frightened, closed-up, hermetic and cold?
There are some streets in Los Angeles where things just do not seem normal.
The 900 Block of Kenmore in East Hollywood is one of these.
Once again, they are filming something, a few doors down.
The note arrived at our door, on Monday, announcing “Cougar Town” and a scene involving a car ending up in a swimming pool. Sounds hilarious.
That home, where films, commercials and TV are filmed over six times a year, looks like a typical American house, with its black shutters, double hung windows and frame siding.
From what I understand, a young location manager owns it, and has lucratively steered lots of productions into his property.
Times being what they are, we all think it’s important that jobs and production stay in Los Angeles. The sound of foreclosure is almost as frequent as the police helicopters haunting Van Nuys.
Most of us are deeply fond of our homes, and some even take pride in keeping them ship-shape.
So imagine, when you wake up and find four toilets on trailers parked in front of your home? Your front driveway has been hijacked by an army of producers, PAs, entertainment day laborers, cops on bikes, heavy equipment, and the whiff of diesel smoke from trucks which are parked all day in front, supplying donuts, steel poles, rice crispy treats and sandbags to the hundreds of walkie-talkie talking men and women.
Sol A. Hurvitz, my late father, resided for 29 years in Woodcliff Lake, NJ and would never allow a garage sale, because he didn’t like strangers coming into his hallowed home. Even the blacktop driveway was too intrusive, too sacred a place, to sell off his sons’ unwanted plastic whiffle bats, steel rakes, rusty spades and deflated basketballs.
He lived to see the day, from his wheelchair, parked in a neighbor’s driveway, when the Bergen County fatties and Rockland County bargain hunters drove their pick-ups onto the lawn and loaded up his furniture, paintings, books and belongings. It was perhaps one of the saddest days of his life: watching his home and life dismantled.
And I too, see my home, as some sort of refuge and place of sanctity, and wonder, with some disturbed amusement, about people who have houses where muddy boots, dirty hands and heavy equipment invade half a dozen times a year. I think about how I wash my bathroom weekly, scrub the bathtub, and vacuum my house, quite fanatically, and then my mind wanders down to the location where entertainment is produced, and strangers urinate and defecate and deface one’s home, but you somehow are compensated in the tens of thousands for this privilege.
Money always wins and only a naïve person would say it doesn’t matter, but there is something base and gross about the frequent whoring of a home, something that only Hollywood could understand and welcome.
“Over the past couple of decades Van Nuys — once considered a prominent music hot spot in the Valley — has seen a decline. Hollywood has dominated the music scene of the greater Los Angeles area for years and no one considered this a problem. Many just accepted Hollywood as the “it” spot for music, and were willing to travel the 20-some miles to hear the latest sounds.
Michael Giangreco, owner of Van Nuys-based record label Meroke Sky Records, wants Hollywood to spread the wealth, and he hopes to bring good new music back to the Valley.”
Read more here.
In a sign that Los Angeles is becoming a more environmentally sensitive city, a new 44-acre park, to be built atop the Hollywood Freeway, may be started in 2012. The project, assuming funds are available, may cost $1 billion dollars and bring recreational space to a densely populated and park sparse region of the city.
The LA Times has an article explaining the details. What follows are my opinions:
The building of the Hollywood Freeway in the early 1950′s, sliced right through the residential and commercial heart of the district. It cut off the Franklin Avenue area from the business district along Hollywood Boulevard. It brought noise, pollution, traffic and congestion to one of the most formerly lovely sections of the city. It hastened the decline of Hollywood, by making the automobile the prime focus of city planning and ignoring pedestrians, public transportation and the pulmonary health of our citizens.
By bringing the freeway underground, Los Angeles will follow the example of other American cities like Boston, whose Big Dig is an attempt to connect the North End back to the rest of Boston and improve the traffic patterns of not only cars, but people on foot.
The Hollywood Freeway should never have been built so ruthlessly. A concrete knife plunged into the heart of a great city will now have some remedial arterial surgery to repair the damage.